Pressed by his father into a musical performing career at age 5, Michael Jackson lived in a bizarre, artificial world from childhood onward. He died Thursday, apparently of cardiac arrest, at age 50.
An incredibly talented musician, dancer and performer, Jackson was emblematic of the perils of a postmodern era of fluid identities. He strove mightily to transcend racial, gender and age boundaries transforming his face and reinventing his personality. In retrospect, much of that can be seen as a struggle to find the childhood he never had.
In one song, he condemns child stardom (an ode to Elizabeth Taylor), "Grace with beauty, charm and talent/You would do what you were told/But they robbed you of childhood/Took your youth and sold it for gold." In another, he laments his own lost youth: "Have you seen my childhood?/I'm searching for the world that I come from/'Cause I've been looking around/In the lost and found of my heart."
With money from hundreds of millions of records and the isolation of a career with millions of adoring fans and few friends, Jackson created a fantasy childhood. The "Leave Me Alone" music video (1987) takes a revealing trip through this self-referential world. Like another recluse, Howard Hughes, Jackson as aviator leads viewers through Neverland, dancing with the deformed Elephant Man and tabloid headlines.
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